Arbors represent doorways and ceilings in the outdoor world. Compare your master plan to your concept diagram. Do you need more delineation between zones of use? An may be the thing you need to suggest a passageway from one area of your yard to another. Would you like to highlight a portion of the yard and set it apart from other areas? An can a special place in the yard and frame whatever is behind it.

Adding an arbor to your garden can also give it presence and style. Add an arbor where you want to an entrance into the garden or link garden rooms. An arbor adds structure to the landscape, balancing the softer lines and billowing forms of plants. It also adds a vertical element, making the scene more than beds of flowers at ground level.

A simple two-post structure is perfect for framing the entry into your garden. Larger arbors with multiple posts can make big spaces feel comfortable. Most interior ceilings are 8 to 9 feet high; bringing that height outside with an overhead structure can make large exterior spaces seem people-sized. As a rule of thumb, beams or rafters within those heights and the proportions will feel comfortable.

By studying the angle of the fiercest rays the area receives, you can slant rafters to block sunlight. If you’d like more shade than the rafters will provide, train sun loving vines to grow up the arbor to help block out more of the sun. You may need only a few rafters if the purpose of the arbor is to define space. The sight of the structure within the yard signals that the area designated is special.


Arbor construction varies with design intent. Curved arbors contribute a romantic quality to the garden; white arches covered with climbing roses establish the cottage style. Repeating the bottom half of the arch along the top of a gate completes the circle. Known as moon gates, these arbor gate combinations frame porthole views of the area beyond them. Position a focal point so that it can be seen while looking through the circle; this point of interest doesn’t have to be centered like a target. Consider setting it slightly to one side to balance the geometric shape of the moon gate. A curving path, leading invitingly to some unseen destination, is another good view to frame.

Rectilinear arbors without curves make a different statement in your landscape. Consider repeating the peak of your rooftop or the horizontal line of your fence top. Whether the style becomes formal or informal depends largely upon the materials and colors you use. Dressed and painted lumber suggests a formal presence. Rough cedar posts lend a rustic air. You can also combine stone or brick pillars with wood iron to form a gateway planted with trailing vines. Design an arbor to reflect your personal style and to complement the architecture of your home.

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